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The idea of the Illuminati, Tony Stark’s group of superhumans that have worked behind the scenes since the Kree-Skrull War, being revealed the heroes of the Marvel universe has been a long time coming. I remember reading an article in an issue of “Wizard” prior to the “New Avengers: Illuminati” mini-series came out where Brian Michael Bendis discussed the fifth issue of the series dealing with knowledge of the Illuminati coming to light. The issue that came out, instead, helped kick off “Secret Invasion” by revealing that a Skrull had replaced Black Bolt. Now, four years since that article saw print, the Illuminati stand revealed with new top cop Steve Rogers demanding answers.

“Avengers” #9 continues a story that began with “New Avengers: Illuminati” #2 when the group collected the Infinity Gems, thinking it best for each to keep one so that the Infinity Gauntlet could never be recreated. Now, the Hood has two Infinity Gems and the remaining members of the Illuminati want to stop him from collecting the rest (and actually figure out who’s taken the two since they don’t know that). In the remains of Attilan, Rogers and both groups of Avengers find what’s left of the Illuminati and demand to know what’s going on. The answers don’t please Rogers.

It’s somewhat surprising that Bendis would go back to a Rogers/Stark conflict so soon after Rogers has returned, but it does allow Bendis to flip things a little. When Rogers reacts angrily at Stark’s involvement with the Illuminati, basing it mostly in the fact that he’s now America’s top cop, it’s Rogers that looks a little irrational, while Stark remains sympathetic. After all, they’re all self-proclaimed protectors of humanity, so it’s a little hypocritical to spout off ideas about not having the authority to do what the Illuminati have done, especially when Rogers’ authority should end at America’s borders.

The other half of the issue shows how Parker Robbins, the Hood, obtained the knowledge he has of the Infinity Gems and escaped from prison. That part of the issue is more interesting than engrossing. Watching Robbins manipulate his way to freedom and gain the trust of an imprisoned Inhuman does demonstrate that he’s a resourceful character, not simply a low-level poseur. He may not have his own set of powers, but he keeps earning new ones.

Being a quiet issue, John Romita, Jr. doesn’t get many chances to draw big cool things hitting other big cool things, but his character work is just as stunning. He adds an extra level of emotional depth to the Rogers/Stark scenes as well as showing the different reactions to the Illuminati and from its members. It’s a mix of outrage, anger, regret, confusion, and not many characters responding the same way. He makes sure that we see how each character is feeling in the moment and to make sure there’s a wide variety of feelings.

“Avengers” #9 finally exposes the Illuminati and reveals how the Hood began his quest for the Infinity Gems. It’s an issue driven by characters, something that Bendis and Romita both excel at. For some, like me, this issue has been a long time coming, and it delivers.